Sir James Wordie


  • Terence Armstrong



Fast ice, Measurement, Pancake ice, Physical properties, Salinity, Sea ice, Spatial distribution, Strength, North Star Bugt, Greenland


Sir James Mann Wordie, C.B.E., an Honorary Member of the Arctic Institute of North America, died in Cambridge on January 16, 1962 at the age of 72. In his quiet way he exerted a very great influence on polar work in Britain for some 40 years, and it is unlikely that anyone again will be able to fill the sort of position he held. He bridged the gap between two eras in the history of exploration, and by virtue of his work at Cambridge, his wide and scholarly knowledge, and his great practical experience he was able to perform a unique function in advising and guiding the work of others. ... His first visit to a polar land came in 1913, when he went to the Yukon and Yakutat Bay on an excursion that followed the International Geological Conference at Toronto. Back in Cambridge, he was engaged in graduate work in the Sedgwick Museum, where also the lately returned members of Scott's last expedition were working on their material. As a result of this association he joined Ernest Shackleton's British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition as geologist and chief of scientific staff, and thus participated in the now almost legendary adventure of the Endurance (1914-17). After the ship had been crushed by the ice of the Weddell Sea, and months had been spent in improvised camps on the pack-ice, the expedition reached Elephant Island, where Wordie remained with the main party while Shackleton made his extraordinary open-boat journey to South Georgia for help. ... When the expedition returned, the war was still being fought and Wordie joined the Royal Field Artillery. In 1919 he returned to Cambridge and at once took up polar work again, this time in the Arctic. In the summer of that year and of 1920 he was geologist and second-in-command (to W. S. Bruce) of expeditions to Spitsbergen. Then in 1921 he started his own series of arctic expeditions, which were to extend over nearly two decades. ... After four visits to the Greenland Sea he now turned his attention to the shores of Baffin Bay. In 1934, taking a party that included ornithologists as well as geologists and archaeologists, he made for Melville Bay, intending to call at Kap York and then cross to Ellesmere Island. Ice was unfavourable, however, and after some work ashore at Upernavik and farther north, the expedition crossed Baffin Bay south of the "Middle Ice" and spent the remaining month surveying and charting Eglinton Fiord and Clyde Inlet. Wordie was still determined to get to Ellesmere Island, and in 1937 he succeeded. Bache Peninsula was reached and then the ship cruised down the east coast of Ellesmere Island and Baffin Island. Survey and geological work were carried out, and archaeological sites investigated at Carey Øer, and Turnstone Beach on Ellesmere Island. ... He was a founder-member of the Committee of Management of the Scott Polar Research Institute, and its Chairman from 1937 to 1955. ... Of those in Britain today who have played any active part in polar work, there are few who have not at some time benefitted, and benefitted greatly, by Wordie's stimulation, kindness, and help.